How to communicate correctly with dementia patients? “Tips and Secrets”.

by | Nov 13, 2023 | Caregiving, Laws & Regulations, Uncategorized, Wellness & Health

Galit, a nurse who works full-time at a geriatric center. She remembers very well the time when she had to communicate for the first time with a dementia patient from the department where she worked. She was a young nurse at the time and had just finished her bachelor’s degree in nursing. The patient she had to communicate with for the first time was called Shoshana. A 70-year-old woman, who was diagnosed in the early stages of the disease, about two years ago. After working in the geriatric department for several months, one thing was very clear to her: there are many caregivers who are still not sufficiently aware of how to properly communicate with dementia patients.

כיצד לתקשר נכון עם חולי דמנציה? "טיפים וסודות".
A nurse makes eye contact with an elderly woman suffering from dementia – illustration picture.


Tips for effective communication with dementia patients-

  1. Remove all the environmental factors that may hinder you from communicating with the person with dementia such as: an open television, a beeping cell phone, a radio, and more.
  2. Speak slowly and clearly, use simple words.
  3. Ask him closed questions and make sure that all the questions you ask can be answered yes or no. Instead of asking, what would you like to have for lunch? Ask, would you like to eat a sandwich with cheese?
  4. Speak clearly and use the names of the people and things you are talking about. Instead of using body words such as: she, he, they – did you like it? Ask did you like the cake?
  5. Try to have short conversations with him. People with dementia may lose the sequence of the conversation, if you have long conversations with them.
  6. Give the dementia patient time to respond to your questions. Try to avoid frustration, if the time you have to wait for an answer is longer than expected.

More tips for effective communication with dementia patients –

  1. Talk to the dementia patient at eye level. Address him by his first name, to make sure you have his full attention.
  2. Try to have one-on-one conversations with him. If you cannot avoid talking in a group, try to make sure that you talk to one person at a time.
  3. Try to avoid finishing the sentence for the dementia patient. If he insists on finding the right word, think about the topic of the conversation and ask a question that should help and stimulate what he wanted to say. If the dementia patient tells you – I want… I want… ask a question such as – do you want to go for a walk?
  4. During the conversation, never say to the dementia patient, “I told you so before.” It is important to remember that if the person starts repeating the things he said before, and asks you repeated questions. It is possible that, he simply forgot that he asked the same question before.
  5. Try not to argue with the dementia patient, as this will make them feel anxious. It is much more effective to accept what he says as the truth and continue the conversation.
  6. If the dementia patient has behavioral disturbances, help them gain control. Think of tasks or activities he can do that can help him feel appreciated. For example, daily activities that he used to do and enjoy. Activities he can do at home such as: folding clothes, or cutting vegetables before dinner.
כיצד לתקשר נכון עם חולי דמנציה?
An elderly woman tries to remember – photo illustration.

Latest tips for proper communication with dementia patients-

  1. Give the person with dementia clear and helpful instructions. When his cognitive (mental) state continues to deteriorate, control must be maintained with him through simple and effective communication. If you ask him directly – “Can you make me a cup of coffee please?” The request can cause him frustration. On the other hand, if you offer him to make coffee together with you and guide him through simple instructions. This way, you can give him back his sense of control. Instead: “Can you make me a cup of coffee please?” “Please fill the kettle with water”, “Boil the water”, “Take the coffee beans out of the cupboard” etc.
  2. I will be flexible to their world! Many people who live with dementia lose track of time. If the dementia patient is not ready to talk to you at that moment, try to understand the reason for this. It’s possible that he just woke up, or he was up all night, or he’s just not in the mood to talk, or he wants to rest and watch TV. It is important to remember that, if you do not receive any response from the dementia patient, you must continue to talk with him patiently and respectfully. All this, in order to avoid frustration and a feeling of lack of appreciation.
  3. It is very useful to find sources of mental support! When dementia worsens, it is important to have someone to talk to. You have to take breaks and gather strength for the rest of the way.
  4. Know when to walk away! If the dementia patient becomes irritable or threatening, take a deep breath and walk away. Remember that living with a dementia patient is not easy – you can always come back and try to deal with it later.

In conclusion-

You must remember that the dementia patient is not always responsible for his actions. It is the terrible disease that causes his behavior and the gradual deterioration of his brain functions. I really hope that one day there will be a cure for this disease. But, now you must learn how to deal with its consequences. The best way is to focus on the positive things you achieve with the person dealing with dementia. Try to spend every day with him as much as possible.

כיצד לתקשר נכון עם חולי דמנציה? "טיפים וסודות".

Written by Irit Rabinowitz – attorney with a master’s degree in the field of health and rehabilitation – with extensive experience with mentally ill and nursing patients.